I was not prepared for this book. Even having read the description, even having heard about it, I was not ready for this to be so real. Unfairly, I also judged the title as it reminded me of my least favorite book in high school… same title but by Upton Sinclair. Thankfully they bear no resemblance to each other.
“I hate it there. I hate that they call it the Jungle.” She pointed to the houses. “We lived like that once. We went to school, went shopping, watched films. We didn’t ask to leave our lives. Why can’t they see that? We’re just like them. But we might as well be from another planet.”
The Jungle by Pooja Puri revolves around themes of hope, family and friendship, all neatly tucked into a horrifying contemporary issue. Mico is a young boy who has lost his family, lost everything really, and is trying to get somewhere safe. Through a deal gone bad with the Ghost Men, who were supposed to get him safely across borders–Mico ends up in a refugee camp in Calais, France. He lives in a tent with two other boys. The camp is dubbed “The Jungle”.
I would have liked a little more depth in the MCs, and at the same time, the words were often poetic and served to be as moving as any backstory. Plus, the starkness of meeting this characters as they are now instead of spending a long time on their history felt a bit refreshing too. Meet the characters where they are in their lives, their tent, their newly formed bonds of friendship and family, their redefining what it means to be a refugee, their struggle to find a way to freedom and their hope to thrive again, rather than just survive… it was all very worth the read. But understandably, this book is not the escape from reality that some may seek when they are reaching for their bookshelves.
Overall, I don’t know that I would have ever picked this book on my own in the bookstore, so I am thankful to NetGalley for making this read possible. If you are looking for a modern, relevant book, you may wish to check it out.
There was a story Jahir used to tell me. About how the first humans were born with wings. Can you imagine what that would be like? To fly anywhere in the world without worrying about having the right papers?
Mico has left his family, his home, his future. Setting out in search of a better life, he instead finds himself navigating one of the world’s most inhospitable environments the Jungle. For Mico, just one of many ‘unaccompanied children’, the Calais refugee camp has a wildness, a brutality all of its own.
A melting pot of characters, cultures, and stories, the Jungle often seems like its own strange world. But despite his ambitions to escape, Mico is unable to buy his way out from the ‘Ghost Men’ the dangerous men with magic who can cross borders unnoticed. Alone, desperate, and running out of options, the idea of jumping onto a speeding train to the UK begins to feel worryingly appealing.
But when Leila arrives at the camp one day, everything starts to change. Outspoken, gutsy, and fearless, she shows Mico that hope and friendship can grow in the most unusual places, and maybe, just maybe, they’ll show you the way out as well.